WHAT SHOULD AMERICA'S NEXT PRESIDENT STAND FOR?
By Thomas L. Krannawitter
Editor: As a nonpartisan think tank, Centennial Institute cannot say who should win the presidency this year.
But we are emphatic about what principles should prevail next year. Here is the inaugural address we'd hope to hear when America's chief executive takes the oath on January 20, 2013.
It will be delivered by the author, and discussed in depth, at the Western Conservative Summit, coming up June 29-July 1 in Denver. One more reason we hope to see you at the Summit.
Fellow Americans, I stand before you honored, and humbled, to take the sacred oath of President of the United States. I stand before you with great hope, but also with grave concerns at the precarious state of our Union.
As Americans, we live in a constitutional republic of our own design and direction. The freedom we enjoy is unmatched in the annals of history. We are fortunate; some would say blessed.
But it is nowhere foreordained that America will remain free. America places its destiny in the hands of its citizens who can then make of America what they will, for better or worse. The future of our country literally depends on the character and education, the choices, of our citizens. What to do with America, and how to do it, are questions each new generation of Americans must wrestle with and decide for themselves.
Principles of Freedom
This does not mean that we are abandoned to making these fateful choices blindly or arbitrarily. America was founded on distinctive moral, political, and economic principles–principles of freedom incorporated in a political regime for the first time ever by the men and women of 1776. As Thomas Jefferson explained, "Every species of government has its specific principles. Ours are perhaps more peculiar than those of any other in the universe." By learning these principles–and the logic of individual, political, economic, and religious freedom that flows from them–we today can prepare ourselves to make vitally important choices in our personal, as well as our public, capacities and to make them wisely. The foundation for all our freedoms rests upon simple, self-evident truths:
That all men are created equal in their natural rights to life, liberty, personal property, and the pursuit of happiness;
That the only legitimate form of government derives its authority and power from the consent of those who are governed by it;
That the only legitimate purpose of government is to secure those equal rights with which all the governed have been equally endowed by their Creator, not to dispense unequal entitlements and favors to different groups;
That the only legitimate way for government to advance its purpose is through laws that are fair, knowable, constitutional, and provide equal protection to all who live under them.
These principles were given political life by our wisely-designed Constitution. It may not be perfect–no human constitution ever will be perfect. But it is a work of political genius, the closest approximation to a perfect constitution of liberty the human mind has ever conceived.
A Proud Story
Even the sad story of human slavery and its influence on the drafting of the Constitution is a monument to liberty: Trying to deal with an evil institution which they did not create, but had inherited and could not easily or quickly eradicate, the Americans of our Founding made only those concessions to slavery that were utterly necessary to keep our Union together, and were therefore the right thing to do at that moment, in that situation. They restricted the spread and influence of slavery as much as possible and they paved the way for its eventual total elimination–perhaps America's greatest moral achievement, made possible by the statesmanship of America's greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. This is a story of which all Americans should not be ashamed, but proud–as is the continuing story of our nation's endeavors to ensure equal justice, dignity, and opportunity for all, a record unexcelled in all the world.
Our great challenge today is recovering the full authority of our Constitution of liberty in our political life. There are parts of the Constitution we still follow today, witnessed by the fact that we continue to hold free and open elections when the Constitution calls for elections. We respect the Constitution every time an incumbent who loses an election freely and peacefully leaves public office, and a challenger who wins an election is allowed freely and peacefully to assume the responsibilities and the powers delegated to him by the people for his elected term of office. This is a great feat in the violent human history of political controversies over the control of governments. We Americans should applaud ourselves for solving with ballets what most nations historically could solve only with bullets.
Constitution Violated and Ignored
But there are large swaths of the Constitution that are violated frequently by government, and ignored by the American people. Government routinely exercises powers and passes policies, often at enormous expense and unfunded debt, nowhere authorized by the Constitution. And in many instances the American people have responded with apathetic disinterest and compliance. The question that we should always be asking is: If we allow government to ignore or violate parts of our Constitution, on what ground will we stand if government ignores or violates all of the Constitution?
Three-quarters of a century ago, a new political vision was offered to the American people. That view suggested that there are different kinds of rights that answer different kinds of threats. In the era of our Founding (so the argument went), when political tyranny was the threat against Americans, political rights such as free elections and representation in government, the right to property, the right to religious freedom, the right to free speech and free press, were the solution. Those were the rights for which the Revolutionaries of 1776 fought. But, according to this new view, America in the 1930s now faced a different kind of threat, not political tyranny, but economic tyranny. Against the alleged threats of big corporations, Americans were now in need not of political rights, but economic rights, entitlements to things such as jobs, prices and wages set by government, a house, an education, health insurance, social security, and more.
This was the new view of rights suggested by a president who held office for an unprecedented four terms, a view that has largely shaped our politics ever since. The biggest obstacle for implementing this new view of rights was the Constitution, which nowhere authorizes government to take from some Americans so that it can distribute homes and jobs and insurance and other material goods to others. Ours is not a constitution of redistribution.
Worsening Our Lives
Thus that same president and the many followers after him suggested that Americans become less vigilant in demanding government obedience to the Constitution, or that we interpret our Constitution as a living, evolving document that can be distorted to permit, rather than prohibit, such expansive reaches of government power. And, in their desperate conditions during the Great Depression, many Americans agreed.
But today, in 2013, we have overwhelming evidence that all these powers government has exercised beyond the scope of the Constitution have not improved our lives. They have made our lives worse. The very unconstitutional policies enacted by government to solve the Great Depression made it more severe than it needed to be. By extracting so much capital from the private sector at precisely the moment when America needed economic growth and the creation of capital, Washington caused the economic crisis to spiral and deepen for almost two decades.
Even more importantly, those policies have made us far too comfortable with unconstitutional government. Americans have become accustomed to favoring unconstitutional policies from which we expect benefit directly and immediately, while ignoring the ill effects of many other policies that don't immediately seem to affect us.
Time to Stop
Almost absent-mindedly, we have allowed all of those bad policies to compound and worsen, right to this day. Today at last, fellow citizens, let us agree that it is time to stop. It is time to become vigilant again in defense of our Constitution. It is time to choose whether we will repeat the same mistakes of old, or move forward to a new era of constitutional freedom, limited government, and economic growth and prosperity.
In recent generations we have focused much of our attention on the distribution of wealth between those with much and those with little. But in the meantime, we have forgotten about what precedes any distribution of wealth: the creation of wealth. Government has no wealth. Wealth must be created, and if government follows the processes of the Constitution, it creates no wealth at all, nothing to be bought or sold.
If all Americans stayed home and did not work, government would have nothing. If the people do not work, there is nothing for government to tax–and no one would lend money to the American government because America would have no way of repaying the debt. Every penny our government might control and spend comes ultimately from the American people.
No one is in favor of poverty. All Americans agree it is bad. But what is poverty, and what is the solution? There is no greater question for us, especially in this time of persistent high unemployment and stagnant growth. Poverty, in short, is the absence of wealth. The solution is the creation of wealth. But how is wealth created? Not through government policies and programs–those can only confiscate and redistribute wealth. Wealth is created by human labor–the human mind and body working to create and invent and produce and distribute goods and services that other people find valuable enough to purchase, including medicines, better food, and technology of all forms.
Enterprise Creates Wealth
Unless we resort to stealing, the only way one person can get the goods another has produced is by producing something himself of equal value to trade. That is the principle of free enterprise, and it is what made America the wealthiest, most prosperous country in history. By allowing each person to keep what his labor produces, by protecting personal property rights strictly, we give each person a tremendous incentive to be entrepreneurial, creative, and industrious, because he knows that the more he produces and earns, the more he keeps. This is why there was very little economic growth–there was little wealth to be distributed–under feudalism, slavery, and other unjust forms of economic servitude that plagued mankind throughout most of history. Only through the implementation of individual rights, limited government, the rule of law, and the protection of property, did we see a sharp, unprecedented explosion in the creation and spread of capital.
The free market economy, enshrined in our Constitution, was the greatest anti-poverty program in human history. America went from a nation of poor farmers to the most powerful, wealthiest nation in the world, in only a few generations. We ignore that lesson at our own economic peril. But we can look ahead to a wealthier, healthier, happier future by finding our way back to limited government and economic freedom, and the policies of protecting property that we know work.
Paramount Purpose of Government
There is one area which the Constitution grants to government significant, though not unlimited, power: national defense. If there is one purpose the government must do well, it is to secure the American people against all threats, foreign and domestic. If government fails this basic task, it can fulfill none other. But in our appetite for increased domestic spending, our national defense and military resources have been diminished relative to the growing dangers in the world. It's simple: There is only so much money the government can raise, and the more we spend on domestic programs, the less we spend on national security. The result is a shrinking navy, an army that could easily be stretched beyond capacity, and a refusal to develop and deploy the ablest, most advanced technology possible to defend the United States.
This has led many who are hostile to America to attack us or threaten us with impunity. We have shown the world that we are willing to confiscate and redistribute the property of our own citizens, to limit their civil liberties, and to watch them with increased suspicion. But we have not shown the world an unwavering resolve to defend ourselves against external enemies. The result has been to embolden those who would challenge or harm us.
Today, we cannot stop a single incoming nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile aimed at the American heartland. But we know it can be done. In numerous tests, we have "hit a bullet with a bullet". If we have the political will, we can protect ourselves from even the most menacing threats to our security. It is not the American way to not do something because we don't think we can. Americans are brilliant at figuring out technical solutions to technical problems.
Fidelity to Friends, Defiance to Enemies
It is time to focus the attention of American government on the first and foremost priority: developing every and all means of protecting the American people from all threats of injury. We must show the rest of the world that while we appreciate and protect our friends, we will not be intimidated by our enemies, and any attempt to harm us will result in pain and destruction. It will then be each nation's choice whether they choose to be a friend or an enemy of the United States.
That distinction between friends and enemies ought to be the core of all American foreign policy. For too long we have catered to, and in many instances provided material support for, regimes that are openly hostile to us. At the same time, we have treated less than well some of our friends. The little nation of Israel is a beacon of light and freedom in a dark part of the world, where freedom is almost unknown. Let us reaffirm our committed friendship with Israel and help her defend herself against the tyrannical forces that surround her. A free and strong Israel is a powerful sign to potential despots that regardless of size, freedom is stronger than slavery.
A New Day for Freedom
Fellow citizens, let us once again become vigilant. Let us help one another study and learn the great features of our own constitutional system of government. Let us regain a healthy skepticism about government. Let us remember that each time government acts, it bears the burden of proof that its action is both beneficial for the people, securing their rights to liberty and property, and authorized by the Constitution. For my part, as your president the next four years, I stand today pledged to veto any bill coming from Congress that includes anything other than the select powers delegated by the people to government through their Constitution.
By recovering the authority of our Constitution, by insisting on limited domestic spending and limited government, combined with a robust national defense and wise foreign policy, we have before us a future of light. This can be a new day for freedom in America.
It is time to renew our dedication that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth–but that it shall protect the God-given rights of the people who formed it, own it, and command it. With His help, we can do this, and we must. God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America.
Thomas L. Krannawitter (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University) is professor of political science at Colorado Christian University, a Centennial Institute fellow, and the author of Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President.
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